PRESIDENT Arroyo's unexpected announcement on Monday night came after 12 of her Cabinet members persuaded her to break her silence on the controversial phone conversations she had with former Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano after last year's elections.
The Cabinet secretaries hinted to the President that they would quit their posts if she did not speak up, sources in the Arroyo administration said. The sources requested anonymity.
In a meeting with the President at the Palace last Saturday, the 12 Cabinet members also offered her the following pieces of advice:
- Make her husband, Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, "disappear";
- Remove the First Gentleman's "alagad" (followers) from certain government agencies like the Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corp.; and
- Order presidential son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo, and presidential brother-in-law, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio Arroyo "Iggy" Arroyo to take a leave from the House of Representatives until the end of the year.
Jueteng whistleblowers have identified the three Arroyo men as having received payoffs from the illegal numbers game.
The 12 government officials resorted to the measure after reaching an impasse with hardline colleagues in the Cabinet who did not want the President to admit that it was she on the taped conversations with Garcillano.
One source said they also perceived that the President, who was then stonewalling about the tapes, "was more inclined to side with the hawks than the doves."
The 12 Cabinet members who urged the President to talk were Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Labor Secretary Patricia Sto.Tomas, Science Secretary Estrella Alabastro, Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita "Ging" Deles, Trade Secretary Juan Santos, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Secretary for Government Mass Media Cerge Remonde, Education Secretary Florencio Abad, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla and Communications Director Silvestre Afable.
Among the hardliners in the Cabinet, who insisted that the President should not admit to anything, were Interior and Local Government Secretary Angelo Reyes, Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Merceditas Gutierrez, Presidential Management Staff Chief Rigoberto Tiglao and Environment Secretary Michael Defensor, according to sources.
Afable reportedly helped write the statement the President read Monday night admitting to her "lapse in judgment" when she called the then elections commissioners supposedly to "protect her vote" in last year's elections.
During Saturday's meeting, the President committed herself to act on the 12 Cabinet members' "advice" regarding the Arroyo men, but made no mention of them in her statement last Monday night.
Monday, June 27, was the birthday of the First Gentleman. "That's why she didn't have the heart to address the issue," a close aide of one Cabinet member said.
Through all of these, meanwhile, Vice President Noli de Castro was kept in the dark. "He's isolated and being treated as an outsider," said one of his advisers.
De Castro was never consulted or briefed during the crisis. Instead, he was merely asked to show up at Malacanang a couple of hours before the presidential announcement and given a statement to read, which the vice president dutifully did.